In an unprecedented ruling against free speech and the right to boycott, a judge in the United States ruled this week that the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream company can be forced to sell ice cream in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The original founders and owners of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream announced in July 2021 that they would stop allowing the sale of their ice cream products in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, since the Israeli takeover of Palestinian land in the West Bank is a clear violation of international law and has been condemned by hundreds of United Nations resolutions since the military occupation began in 1967.
The company said that selling their product in the illegal Israeli settlement colonies, constructed on stolen Palestinian land, would be “inconsistent with our values”, but that the company would continue to sell its ice cream products inside Israel. There are many companies around the world that have responded to the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, initiated in 2005 by hundreds of Palestinian organizations aiming to pressure Israel to end its brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine.
However, the Israeli license-holder, Avi Zinger, continued to produce the ice cream in his factory near Tel Aviv, and continued to sell it in the Israeli settlements, going against the company’s decision.
The original Ben & Jerry’s company is now owned by the multinational corporation Unilever, based in London, and despite an agreement to allow the Ben & Jerry’s brand to make decisions about preserving its social justice values, Unilever sold its license to operate the Ben & Jerry’s brand in Israel to an Israeli company without consulting the Ben & Jerry’s board.
That decision by Unilever, according to Ben & Jerry’s, was “made without the consent of Ben & Jerry’s Independent Board”, and went against the merger agreement that gave the board the ability to protect the founder’s values and reputation.
But US District Judge Andrew Carter, based in New York, ruled this week that Ben & Jerry’s company must allow its ice cream to be sold in the illegal Israeli colonies, saying that the company’s claim that such sales violate its core values is “too speculative”.
Unilever had previously stated that Ben & Jerry’s could keep their social justice values without “getting involved in international geo-politics”. Palestine supporters point out that selling products in the illegal Israeli colonies is, in fact, getting involved in geopolitics, since these colonies are illegally constructed on land stolen from the indigenous Palestinian population. Refusing to sell in the colonies would be a way of not getting involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Ben & Jerry’s company has said that they will appeal the decision. The company was founded in Vermont, in the United States in 1978, and is known for championing progressive causes, including making a flavor with former US football star Colin Kaepernick, when he took a stand against racism in the United States.
Hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem, in settlement colonies that are regarded as illegal under international law.